Deb Leser's daughter and Lynn Terhar's youngest son had been classmates since the second grade until both graduated from Westfield High School in June. In that time, Leser has gotten to see Terhar, who is campaigning for one of the three at-large seats on the Fairfax County School Board, in action.
"She was very active in the PTA [at every level]. Lynn was instrumental in getting [Westfield] open, in what programs would be available, in creating a sense of community, everything," Leser said. "One of the reasons I would support her is she has put in the time. She knows the teachers' side, the administrators' side, the parents' side and the students' side."
ALL 12 SEATS on the School Board are up for grabs in the November election, with five incumbents not seeking re-election, two of the open seats are at-large berths.
Six candidates have entered the race for three at-large slots, elected by all county voters. The only incumbent in this race is Rita Thompson, who is joined by fellow Republicans Stephen Hunt, E.J. "Nell" Hurley, and Democrats Terhar, Ilryong Moon and Janet Oleszek on the at-large ballot.
The entire board is officially nonpartisan, however, each of the six candidates has received the endorsement of the two major political parties. No party affiliation will appear on the ballot.
"SHE IS EXTREMELY HONEST, diplomatic and laughs easily," said Dana Cimino, who has known Terhar for at least four years. "She knows how to get along with people. I've never seen her get angry, even though I know she is."
Terhar, who describes herself as a professional volunteer, said it is her experience at bringing people together that makes her perfect for the School Board. It is a skill she honed while serving on various local PTAs and as a member of the Fairfax District PTA Board, which represents the counties of Fairfax and Arlington and the City of Alexandria at the state level. She has also served as a representative to the Virginia High School League, which includes all of the public high schools throughout the state; and in other various community groups and committees.
"I bring an open mind to the board," Terhar said. "I have no agendas."
For instance, she said she was unhappy with how the superintendent's contract was renegotiated, with some members of the board — mostly Republicans — kept in the dark until days before the vote. Terhar says she doesn't support banning books, which she says takes decisions away from parents. She thinks that phonics is important to learning to read, however, she says it is not the only part of the learning process.
TERHAR BEGAN volunteering in the schools when her own children were students, first in the classrooms then on the PTAs. From there she gravitated to the more regional and state boards.
"I have a passion for the school system. I'm a big advocate for kids, that's what I've always done," Terhar said. "My kids went to Fairfax County Public Schools and had a wonderful time. My oldest son just graduated from Virginia Tech and I remember him telling me that in his calculus class he could tell who was from Fairfax County because all the others looked lost."
As good as Fairfax County schools are, they could always use improving, she said, which of course costs money.
"It’s all about the budget. Everything we do is about the money," Terhar said. "The tight fiscal situation … drives decisions about priorities. We have to make hard decisions with people's money."
She admits she hasn't looked closely at the budget yet, but said for example the independent consultant's report, which suggested cuts for special education, could be looked at for practical ways to streamline costs, as long as the cuts do not weaken the program.
"Special education is federally mandated. Yes, but are we going above and beyond in the right way?" Terhar said.
SHE ALSO SAID one of her goals is to alleviate the partisanship and decisiveness the board has now.
"I think she is fair and moderate. I think she really wants it to be a nonpartisan board, but in a county of this size, you really can't run independently," said Lu Ann McNabb, Terhar's campaign manager. "Our [Westfield PTSA] board is Democrats, Republicans and Independents and everyone works well together. She has worked with so many people and I think that is her strength."
Terhar said reasonable people can disagree yet still be able to compromise in order to do what is best for the school system.
In addition, she thinks it is possible to provide higher salaries for teachers without jeopardizing class sizes, where as in the past, it has been a one-or-the-other situation.
"It takes a creative approach and a willingness to make tough decisions," Terhar said. "My youngest son, for example, could be put in a room with 80 kids and would have learned just fine. My middle son could be placed in a room with five kids and get distracted. You need to be selective. Classes with larger numbers of special education students need to be smaller, but that doesn't mean every kid needs to be in a small classroom."
Leser said one of Terhar's strengths is that she listens to everyone, but is also not afraid to go against the grain.
"I think the School Board would be a good place for her because she is a consensus builder, but she will also go her own way," Leser said. "She is not going to try to score points at other people's expense."
Cimino said it is Terhar's even temperament that will serve her well should she win the election.
"She can take it and give it, but in a diplomatic way," Cimino said.